With five races remaining in the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series season, Erik Jones and the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota team return to Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400 with a couple of points to prove.
Point No. 1 is that the pre-season goal of winning a race during Jones’ Sunoco Rookie of the Year season is still very much alive and attainable. Despite an early exit last week at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, the Furniture Row Racing team has earned very respectable averages in both starts (15.5) and finishes (16.7) after the first 31 races. Continuing to build on that now solid foundation creates the drive to achieve all they can.
“The 5-hour ENERGY Toyota team has been able to learn and get better every week of the season, regardless of some of the results we’ve had,” said Jones. “Sure I’d like to get rid of some of the bad finishes we’ve had but a lot of them were out of our control so there’s really not a lot you can do about it. We keep chipping away at it and I feel confident we’re going to be ready when the opportunity comes our way.”
The second point is that the Furniture Row Racing team has been learning and progressing since the season’s first race at Kansas Speedway in May when they finished 22nd. Handling issues on the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota hampered the team’s efforts throughout the day. Jones, however, showed flashes of promise during the race, finishing ninth in the second stage and running ninth again with 60 laps remaining. A spin and later contact with another car with less than 10 laps remaining resulted in the 22nd-place finish.
“The last time we were at Kansas it was a bit of learning experience,” said Jones. “I said at the time it was something we just had to put behind us and focus on the next race, which was at Charlotte. We ended up getting our best finish of the season to date there (7th) so that showed me early in the season that our team was going to be strong.”
Jones is 19th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings after 31 races. He trails Joey Logano for 17th place by 45 points. Jones leads the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings with 256 points, six ahead of Daniel Suarez (250) and 71 ahead of Ty Dillon (185).
The 267-lap, 400-mile Hollywood 400 will consist of three stages of 80/80/107 laps (80/160/267). Sunday’s race will air live beginning at 1 p.m. MT (3 p.m. ET) on NBCSN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 and MRN. Qualifying (multi-car, three rounds) is scheduled for Friday at 4:15 p.m. MT (6:15 p.m. ET) on NBCSN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 and MRN.